Wars never end smoothly. Peace that follows takes years to stabilize. The only war the US was able to end smoothly was when choppers airlifted stranded Americans from the US embassy rooftop. After the death of Osama, many folks have wondered whether the war in Afghanistan is approaching an end. It might or might not be, but in both cases the US has to ensure that the war ends or continues on the US terms and not on some other country or group’s terms.
Pakistan being the most interested party in the neighborhood is also the most impacted country. With ambitious Generals leading Pakistan’s aggressive defense strategy, it is natural that the US and Pakistan’s strategic interests in the area would have a collision. Many astute observers had predicted it but no one could calculate the path it would take. The events in the last several months have now made it clear that the US had decided on the course it would take awhile back, to neuter the Pakistan army and its aggressive designs on its western borders. Since the Second World War, the US had not had such an astute and predictable adversary in the areas it operated militarily. The last time the US took on an adversary head on was when its forces clashed with the Chinese in Korea in the early 50s. The Chinese army in the 50s was really a ragtag army with no nuclear support or even a reliable supply of ammunition. The Pakistan army is different. It has considerable support in Pakistan population, it has a credible weapon in its possession and it has the ability to match the US forces in the open warfare in the ragged mountains of FATA and Afghanistan. The US cannot pulverize the Pakistan Army by bombing campaigns like in Iraq twice and current one in Libya. It is true that the US can threaten Islamabad. However, the US cannot afford to have a cornered enemy with an ability to inflict massive destruction.
So what should the US do?
The US is now embarked on a path it has never traversed before. The US clearly sees its most trusted ally; the Pakistan Army needs to be cut to size. The US created the army and took it to where it is now in strength by providing monetary and armament support. But like many other potentates that the US created and strengthened in many parts of the world and then cut them to size or had them removed, the time has come to deal with the Pakistan army which as an institution has taken the role of a potentate. The US has not reached this conclusion in a hurry or made this decision after a few policy setbacks it suffered in the area. The decision was perhaps made sometime in 2006. At first the US decided to back an ersatz civilian set up and pressured the army to share the power with the civilians. That arrangement did not last long and was effectively sabotaged by a barrage of suicide bombing in many parts of Pakistan and in the neighboring countries. The US intention in helping a civilian setup, among other, was to have some degree of internal debate between the civilians and military brass on issues that particularly related to Afghan war. The Generals quickly put down any policy disagreement by neutralizing its civilian partners who really did not have enough credentials to put up a fight after the murder of Pakistan’s major political voice Benazir Bhutto.
The US then decided to backup two Generals it believed would follow the US lead in the area. That too did not work and the two generals did not have the ability to climb above the rhetoric, the Pakistan army itself created by using its political allies and the media in Pakistan.
The internal debate within the US establishment on how to deal with the Pakistan army sharply differed. Many factions disagreed with each other on the US approach. The US military thought that it can work with the Pakistan military. The civilians in the security establishment just didn’t agree with that and have pursued a policy of confrontation with the Pakistan army. There were many instances when the disagreements within the US policy makers were so sharp and acute that some analysts believed and often rightly so, that the US has a two-track policy in Pakistan. These divisions further fortified the belief in the Pakistani military establishment that it can indefinitely rely on internal US differences to further strengthen its strategic position in the area. The Pakistan army intensified its jockeying to gain a measure of partnership with the US after the Afghan war ends. The Ray Davis saga was used to humiliate the US civilian agencies believing that the army’s backers in the US military establishment would not be irked by all the hoopla.
The humiliation did not sit well and resulted in a well thought out plan to target the Pakistan army as well as lift the US civilian admin’s dwindling national security credentials. The US was aware of Osama’s presence in Pakistan and it was a matter of when and how to take him out. The promises were made and accepted with great reluctance perhaps, that Pakistan army’s role would not be disclosed or the army would not be humiliated in the media. Behind the scenes the ineffective civilian government in Pakistan was asked to broaden its base. The two political parties that were planned to from the government along with the PPP in 2008, finally reunited with the President Zardari.
It appears that the whole plan with elaborated promises was sold to the Pakistan army when the ISI chief visited the US last month; this visit appeared to have been cut short. The US military top representative also visited Pakistan to give assurances followed up by the US special Af-Pak envoy Marc Grossman. During all that time the harsh and vocal criticism of Pakistan in the US media continued. Was that the cover used to convince Pakistan Generals to accept the Abottabad heist?
The US president stayed above the fray but the US civilian security agencies have now taken a lead role in discrediting Pakistan or rather the Pakistan army. The US military establishment has only meekly suggested that, “No firm evidence of Pakistani complicity”.
The evidence is not firm but it is there…..